SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The son of former federal cabinet member and longtime congressman Ray LaHood remained the overwhelming favorite Monday as the field took shape for the special election to replace disgraced former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock in a heavily Republican central Illinois district.
Darin LaHood, 46, is a former state and federal prosecutor known in Illinois for his fiscally conservative views and focus on ethics reform. Ideologically, he’s considered more conservative than his father, who held the seat before Schock and was transportation secretary for Democratic President Barack Obama.
The deadline to file nominating papers for the July 7 primary was 5 p.m. Monday. By early evening, Republican Donald Rients of Benson and Mike Flynn of Quincy had filed paperwork to challenge Darin LaHood in the primary, while Rob Mellon of Quincy and Adam Lopez of Springfield filed to run as Democrats.
Rients is a former corrections officer, and Flynn is a conservative writer. Mellon is a social studies teacher, and Lopez is an insurance executive.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, LaHood said he planned to “work hard and take nothing for granted in this race.”
In the aftermath of Schock’s March 31 resignation, LaHood said he’s “received a huge outpouring of grassroots support throughout the district. It’s clear that the people of central Illinois are eager to have a representative that will fight for term limits, tackle the [nation’s] $18 trillion debt, and create transparency and openness in government.”
Schock, a Peoria Republican elected to his fourth congressional term in November, resigned March 31 after withering criticism of remodeling his congressional office in the style of the “Downton Abbey” television show and other lavish spending. The Justice Department is investigating the Peoria Republican, and a grand jury has begun hearing testimony about the matter.
The district Schock represented has been held by a Republican since 1939, and has only grown more Republican since the once-a-decade redistricting process in 2010 took out a heavily black, Democratic-leaning portion of the district, making it more uniformly conservative.
A handful of other Republican lawmakers — state Sen. Jason Barickman and Bill Brady, and state Rep. Dan Brady — who were considering bids, quickly removed their names from the running as LaHood locked up support both locally and from GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s political operation. State Central Committeeman Mike Bigger said 18 of 19 county GOP chairmen within the district back LaHood. The state’s entire Republican congressional delegation is hosting a fundraiser for LaHood on Tuesday evening at Washington’s Capitol Hill Club, with tickets ranging from $500 to $1,000 apiece.
“I don’t see Darin getting beat in this in the primary or the general. He is going to have an awful lot of resources,” Bigger said. “I think the establishment in the party are happy with Darin’s candidacy.”
LaHood has been a loyal Republican foot soldier, working actively on the campaigns of fellow central Illinois Republicans — Sen. Bill Brady’s 2010 campaign for governor, and state Sen. Dan Rutherford’s 2010 campaign for treasurer, among others. But political observers like Bigger noticed that LaHood, too, seemed to have broader aspirations than the state Senate.
“I’ve noticed over the last few years you’d see Darin at these dinners in other counties, he’d offer himself up to give speeches. I’ve seen him laying the groundwork for this even before the Rauner campaign came along,” he said.
Following the July 7 primary, the special general election for the 18th congressional district is scheduled for Sept. 10.
“Darin LaHood jumped into the race pretty early, wrapped up a local support from the local business community,” Bradley University Political Science Professor Josh Ryan said. “There really isn’t anybody else who’s that known or who has that base of support.”
KERRY LESTER, Associated Press